cover image First, Catch: Study of a Spring Meal

First, Catch: Study of a Spring Meal

Thom Eagle. Grove, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4822-3

In this gorgeously written debut, London chef Eagle reflects on the foods, customs, and histories that come into play in selecting and serving a multi-dish lunch. Twenty-four essays guide readers in meal preparation while offering curious tidbits, cultural insights, and moral arguments on food (he disdains modern poultry farming). Eagle challenges the notion of recipes as “scientific sets of instructions,” instead proposing “they are more like short stories... told in a curious imperative.” While the chapter titles sound instructive—“On curing with salt,” “On almost frying”—he educates while contemplating such topics as Italy’s tolerance for bitter flavors, as well as meringues made out of sugar and blood (a little-known thickening agent) whipped “into a pinkly clouded mass.” He explains how brining “alters the structure of muscle cells” so they retain moisture, but he also waxes rhapsodically while preparing soup stock: “It is easy to believe that bones, lying as they do in the depths of ourselves, are the repository of the soul, or at least of special, vitally animal instincts: we know things, as they say, in our bones.” The recipes themselves are rewarding, including one featuring a wild-caught rabbit (which Eagle suggests one first blanch to get rid of the “grass excrement, of musk”) that becomes the centerpiece of a ragù. This wonderfully indulgent, pleasurable compilation of culinary meditations will thrill food lovers. (Mar.)